The Tea House is the story of Emily and Michael, thirteen-year-old twins who lose their father in World War I. Their mother is depressed and pays little attention to them, so the twins find ways to keep themselves occupied when their minds start to wander. One method of entertaining themselves comes about in an indirect way – Emily reveals to Michael that she has a hidden talent, one that Michael decides to utilize this talent in order to impress his friends and derive amusement by tricking them. Emily goes along with the plan, albeit a little more hesitantly. Slowly, their notoriety grows until news of the twins’ performances reach the adult world. Emily and Michael are drawn into a tangled web of deceit and lies, much of it of their own making, until the novel culminates in a shocking conclusion that no one can anticipate.
The historical details in Paul Elwork’s well-written novel are abundant and help the reader visualize the scenes he is writing about. The mystery contained within the novel is intriguing and a good subplot to the overall story. Each of Elwork’s characters has a distinct personality and a voice of his or her own. It is easy to believe that, long after the book ends, these characters live on, toiling on in their individual lives.
Despite the fact that Elwork is a talented writer, however, the story itself drags a bit (which is surprising, given that the novel is only 168 pages). Perhaps it is the subject matter or the deep introspection of the characters; while I did find the personalities in the story compelling, I couldn’t get into the book as a whole - the story just didn’t engage me as a reader. I found the subplots much more interesting than the main storyline.
It’s difficult to review this book without giving away too much. If the reader knows too much about the contents of the book beforehand, it really will ruin the reading experience. It will have to suffice to say that The Tea House is a well-written book many readers would probably enjoy. While it was not this reader’s favorite selection, it has appealing characters and is worth a quick read.